South Africa

Ennerdale protests: Trust lost is hard to regain

By Greg Nicolson 27 May 2016

This is the season of protest. In Gauteng, the community of Ennerdale on Thursday proved, once again, that until real concerns are met, we're stuck in an echo chamber of ever-decreasing trust and continued demonstrations. By GREG NICOLSON.

All entrances to Ennerdale were closed on Thursday, as you might have heard from the traffic reports. Take the N1 south, head up the R558, and you’d find the JMPD blocking the road. A hundred metres away there were young men burning an endless supply of tires. In between, “protesters” – looking pretty relaxed, really – were talking about how tired they were of what they see as a lack of development and a shortage of hope. The Daily Maverick missed the morning protest ritual of stoning cars, arriving just in time for the brunch discussion (it’s a protest, there wasn’t really brunch).

“We need houses. We’re tired of this fokken place,” said Olive du Plooy, 52, as another bakkie full of tires to put on the fire arrived. “We’re too quiet. Now it’s time for us to stand up and fight for our rights because enough is enough.”

Photo:  A protester in Ennerdale stretches by the burning fires. (Greg Nicolson)

In some ways, the Ennerdale protests link to other demonstrations across the country. But residents, or at least the 200 or so at the key protest point, felt isolated even from those demanding the same services. Electricity, housing, jobs, the combating of drugs, aged infrastructure, corruption – all are issues of concern, exacerbated by the sense that the traditionally-coloured community has been left behind because it’s not black enough.

Photo: Ennerdale resident Septan Smith in the back of a police van, arrested for what he claimed was just being in the wrong place at the wrong time as demonstrators clashed with police. (Greg Nicolson)

But it’s the trust that really matters. There’s a cycle protesters wanted to combat: elections and demonstrations lead to promises; promises lead to nothing; nothing leads to more protests. They’ve been through it and don’t trust the game they’ve decided to play.

“It’s a fokken godforsaken place,” du Plooy added.

Photo: Gauteng housing MEC Paul Mashatile addressed residents of Ennerdale on Thursday. (Greg Nicolson)

It’s easy politics for opposition groups. The Democratic Alliance were out in full force on Thursday (one ward in the area is under a DA councillor, the other ANC). The DA’s PR councillor David Lucas said: “Economically we are not surviving and obviously people are frustrated… It’s a culmination of years of people asking and requesting and nothing is happening.” Lucas, and basically every other protester, even those passing by, said there has been no development in the area since democracy.

“Do you know why the children are using drugs? Because there’s no work. They’ve got nothing to do during the day so they do funny things, they’re stealing and taking drugs,” said Rusty Mngqibisa, 53. Challenges amongst the youth, particularly related to employment and drugs, were a key issue, but protesters complained most about housing and electricity.

Photo: An Ennerdale protester walks away from police in despair after arguing with them as they cracked down on protesters throwing rocks. (Greg Nicolson)

According to residents, there have been few or no RDP houses built in the area and the city has restricted them from building on new plots on the surrounding vacant land. With unemployment rife and community culture strong, the area has seen an increase in population, as parents have children and migrants move in, without a corresponding rise in the supply of housing. Locals don’t want to move away, they want somewhere to live, at home. So the area simply increases its density, with families having to live with other families and backyard shacks becoming common.

Photo: An Ennerdale protester holds a rock while watching police clamp down on the demonstration. (Greg Nicolson)

The DA’s Herman Mashaba, who said he is visiting communities to listen in preparation for becoming mayor (which remains his confident view), linked it to other protests he’s seen. “It’s really scary. The lies. The deceit. Putting out fires.” If the city was connected to its citizens it would be able to plan and implement development to avoid such demonstrations, he said.

DA Gauteng leader John Moodey, who also visited Ennerdale, said city housing MMC Dan Bovu promised the area would see development but didn’t deliver. “It’s beginning to explode,” he said, claiming the city’s recently tabled budget doesn’t offer the area anything to address its challenges.

The best analyses of what’s gone wrong came from the community. While yet another bakkie of tires arrived to stoke the flames of protest, a group dancing to house music from a VW Polo, drinking Sedgwick’s and Castle Milk Stout, were told they weren’t helping the cause. Two people across the street started throwing punches while a man walked in front of the burning tires yelling, “United we stand, divided we fall.”

Photo: Police was present in great force. (Greg Nicolson)

Nathan Swartz, 19, a University of Johannesburg student and ambassador for a US embassy youth programme, mixed realism with optimism. “Since I grew up there has been no change in Ennerdale,” he said, clutching his iPad. “The community is so angered it’s come to a point where protest is needed for communities to be heard.” Like many others, he noted the perception that the surrounding areas are being helped while Ennerdale is not, which many protesters put down to the ANC ignoring coloured communities.

Racial and political divisions had set the community back, he said, the core issue being: “The population growth comparative to service delivery and supply, there’s an imbalance in the community.” If Ennerdale was more united, with business, government, and civil society coming together, it could make a difference, especially for the youth, if the right programmes are available and communicated, said Swartz.

It sounds simple, but it’s not. Stephan Smith, 29, who grew up in the area and works in marketing for a large bank, described Ennerdale as quiet and comfortable to grow up in, but requiring redevelopment. The houses in the area look better than many in townships across the country and certainly they’re a few steps up from the informal settlement across the railway tracks. But the city’s failure to release land for residents who want to stay in the area and move out of their parents’ homes, and the youth unemployment, drug and crime problem, means there must be a fight to improve conditions for the next generation.

“What we’re looking for now, neh, we’re looking for proof in writing saying this is what we have, this is what we’re doing,” said Smith as Gauteng housing MEC and provincial ANC chairperson Paul Mashatile spoke to community leaders behind a police nyala. He didn’t trust government.

“Proof” wasn’t forthcoming, nor were promises taken as good intentions. Ennerdale Stakeholders Committee Chairperson Marge Cas said, after meeting with the MEC: “We’re requesting that development be made in Ennerdale, employment for our kids…yes, we are jealous we cannot pretend that it doesn’t affect us,” she said, remarking on the perceived benefits other communities had received. The community would meet with the provincial and city governments from Friday, she said, but they would be careful not to take them at their word. Failed promises from past protests still stung.

“The priority will be looking at development because people want homes. It’s not a promise, it’s a plan,” said Mashatile, to some shouts of “voetsek”. He noted vacant land in extensions where housing could be delivered and said a committee will start listing who to prioritise. He apologised that it has taken so long, but said, “All I am saying to the community of Ennerdale is we have heard your cry. We are acting now.”

“Please be assured that what I said will happen,” said Mashatile.

But trust broken is difficult to repair. “We don’t believe anything they say there. We want paper work and we want to see development,” said Ethan Kursbuy, 25, by the burning tires, after the MEC had left. Mashatile arrived on time, listened, and promised to engage, but it wasn’t enough. Promises have been broken before.

With the sun setting, a hail of rocks were thrown at the metro police. The cops opened fire with rubber bullets. A nyala chased protesters as they ran; petrol bombs missed their mark. “This is Ennerdale, they are going to shoot back,” said a man too old to flee. He was talking about the protesters. A man trying to calm the crowd was hit with rocks. The scene repeated itself.

The protesters vowed to continue. Trust lost is hard to regain and only meaningful development will quell the fires. DM

Main photo: Protesters in Ennerdale on Thursday kept tires burning at the barricades all day as they protested over service delivery issues. Greg Nicolson).

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